It’s Sunday morning, and I’m sitting in church with my two boys – who are quietly saying thank you to God for all their many blessings while at the same time battling with their action heroes – when my oldest begins whispering.
“Do fish go to fish heaven when they die?” Yes.
“Are The Avengers real?” No, they’re just a story.
“Is Optimus Prime real?” No, he’s just a story.
“Is Jesus real?” Yes.
“Is God real?” Yes.
“Is Santa real?”
Whoa. Ok, I’m happy he wants to know. There are many children who can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t, and I’m glad my son appreciates that what he sees on TV is often just a story, even if it’s been convincingly acted out.
I’m very happy to clarify which things are true and which things are fantastical, and he’s happy to accept those facts. I mean, who really wants to live in a world where some creepy demi-god in a ridiculous cape can enter our dimension through a portal in the sky and start blowing up New York City? Not me, thanks, nor my oldest son.
But Santa? Now we’re picking at the fundamental fabric of childhood. To believe in Santa is to believe that, even on your darkest day, you have something to hope for. Santa is the reason to Be Good, the one person who makes the world just a little bit magical, a super cool guy who always seems to know EXACTLY what you want.
But when my son looks me in the eye and asks me the powerful question at point blank range – with the full trust that I know almost everything – it seems wrong to lie. I’ve always known this day would come, so I decide to take the mythical bulls by his horns.
“No, honey,” I whisper. “Santa is just a story.”
His mouth falls open and he stares into the distance. It’s as if he’s just been given the knowledge of good and evil. Right before my eyes, his universe slowly shifts off course and into a direction he can’t have imagined existed.
If Santa is just a story, his big blue eyes say, well, this changes everything. Who wants to live in a world without Santa? Not me, thanks, nor my son. He’s making exactly the same expression I would make if all six of the actual Avengers dropped out of the sky and landed in the pew beside me.
My answer is so dangerous that he has to ask again – we are in church, after all, and whispering, so perhaps I didn’t hear him properly.
“No, Mommy – is SANTA real?”
It’s the literal moment of truth. And I bail.
“Yes. Santa is real.”
With a huge sigh of relief, the furrow in his brow lies flat and once again the world makes sense. Guess I can kill Santa another day.